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Christian: Are You Ready For Exile Stage Two?

May 29, 2015

[Note: The title above is for Stephen McAlpine’s article linked at the bottom or found directly here. The comments that follow are my own.]

I remember thinking, back when I first started working professionally in the field of apologetics, that something wasn’t quite right with all the talk about escaping the sacred/secular dichotomy and seeing all as sacred. This went hand-in-hand with the talk about transforming culture. I never was clear about how that was to be done. The idea seemed to be that if we talked about it all being sacred, and if we performed our cultural tasks with excellence, somehow culture would be changed for the better. Now, I know that the first concern behind this was that seeing all as sacred would lead Christians to live more godly lives. But there was an external, cultural application as well. The idea of changing hearts before changing lives that I heard from pulpits and evangelists wasn’t prominent in the culture-transforming talk. The only ones of Niebuhr’s categories that were live options for conservative evangelicals were Christ against culture and Christ transforming culture. We couldn’t go with the separatistic fundies on the former, so the latter it was.

What I was witnessing in the church, however, was that, far from bringing everything up to the level of the sacred, the sacred was being brought down to the level of the secular, and evangelicals were looking a lot like their non-Christian neighbors. We had to be hip and cool. I haven’t read McKnight’s book, but I agree with the observation (quoting McAlpine) that “Jesus did not come to make the world a better place, but to redeem people out of it, and that trying to make the world a better place is in fact, ‘a species of worldliness.’” Trying to be “in the world but not of it” is an interesting idea, but the results depend upon how far into the world one goes. Rather than being so heavenly minded that we’re no worldly good, we could be—and in many cases are—so earthly minded that we’re no heavenly good.

There are no simple rules for how to engage a post-Christian culture in the Bible. Christianity isn’t just a competing religion now, one in a sea of many. It now is regarded more as “been there, done that,” and not with a sense of nostalgia. Also, many of us are still smarting from having our quasi-Christian culture taken away from us, from losing, if not a place of power, at least a place of some respect. America was a comfortable place for Christians (speaking as a Baby Boomer), but now it isn’t, and we’d to back things up.

But lacking a friendly response today, taking our ball and going home isn’t an option. We really shouldn’t retreat to the fundamentalist trenches since we can’t even reach individuals well from a hiding place, much less influence culture. We do have to “Come out! Come out, wherever [we] are!” and be witnesses for Jesus live and in person.

Maybe that’s a key point or at least a place to start. Our job isn’t to change our culture (which might only be possible in the very long run after hearts are changed) but to be living and speaking witnesses for Jesus. Which means we have to leave the constantly shifting sands of “coolness” behind. If Builders and Baby Boomers made no headway by complaining that this country is ours and we want it back, generations following will make none by pointing out that we are as hip as the next guy.

Francis Spufford, in his book Unapologetic, thinks the next generation of Christians will have to deal more with being thought weird than being considered evil, the basic charge of the New Atheists. I think McAlpine is correct, however. If Christians are living like Christians, other-than-Christians can hardly be neutral in their responses, especially if we’re seen as encroaching upon their territory. Paul said that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We may have had a bye on that to some degree in the West, but I think that promise will have more and more relevance in the coming years.

Read this article. Christians must make this a topic of serious consideration.

Stephen McAlpine

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time.  Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and poured over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1Peter.  After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along…

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3 Comments
  1. Thanks for those thoughts. Glad the article spurred you to write that. I too read Spufford and although I enjoyed it, there is still a slightly middle class English “it’s going to be ok” flavour to it. Ironically the one area that he and I come apart at, is the issue of sexuality, which is the one issue that is going to prove that it won’t be ok! Not that the gospel is reduced to what we think about sex, but the issue is the watershed, because our view of it tips so many other things in different directions, or indeed reveals what we think about other foundational issues.

    • Rick Wade permalink

      I had an idea that Spufford isn’t of an evangelical persuasion as am I, but I was surprised that he said that the truth of the faith is a secondary matter because God’s existence isn’t a knowable matter, that such things “[limp] along behind [his] emotional assurance.” I wonder how he would fare under a condition of real pressure as you wrote about. I haven’t finished his book, but I suspect I’ll enjoy much of it because of his skill as a writer and because of the ease with which he skewers the other side.

    • Rick Wade permalink

      By the way, have you read Hunter’s To Change the World? I think he’s on the right track. Your thoughts?

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